Car Sharing

Car Sharing

Carsharing is a membership-based service, often run by private companies or non-profit organizations, whereby individuals are able to access shared vehicles, parked throughout communities, for short-term use. Members typically pay an annual fee as well as an hourly rate per usage. Carshare companies in turn typically cover costs of insurance, regular maintenance, and even gas.

Primarily designed for shorter trips, carsharing provides a viable alternative to traditional car ownership and can serve as an extension of a city's transportation network. These programs, which local governments can support (see below), positively contribute to and expand sustainable transportation options within and around urban areas.


Carsharing increases mobility for community members to reach destinations otherwise inaccessible by public transit, walking or biking. This type of service is particularly valuable for individuals without access to personal vehicles and provides the added benefit of avoiding the financial costs associated with car ownership such as insurance and maintenance. Additionally, carsharing encourages and supports multi-modal communities by providing an additional transportation option and demonstrating that "mobility" in a city does not require personal vehicle ownership. While drop-off and pickup specifications vary based on the program, carsharing vehicles are typically located in areas to help increase connectivity and accessibility to a variety of transportation modes. Finally, vehicles used in carshare programs are typically fuel efficient, thus reducing gasoline consumption and keeping CO2 emissions to a minimum.


Carsharing is most successful in dense areas; when it is offered as a complement to other forms of transit; and/or when it is located in areas that may not be strongly connected to existing transportation options. In such an environment, carsharing programs offer the following benefits:

  • Increased mobility and accessibility for residents.
  • Increased transit ridership as a consequence of less car owners.
  • Avoided financial burdens of car ownership for members. According to research, approximately 25%-71% of carshare members have indicated that this option has allowed them to avoid the purchase of a personal vehicle (Shaheen et al, 2009).
  • Lower demand for on-street parking, particularly at peak traffic levels.
  • Lower traffic congestion and air pollution. Studies have estimated that carsharing removes between 4.6 and 20 cars per vehicle-shared from the road (Shaheen et al, 2009).

Effort Required

Carshare programs tend to be started and operated by non-profit organizations or private carshare companies, such as Zipcar, so little effort is required from the local government (Aspen, Colo. is an exception with its own municipally run carshare program,CAR TO GO). Through RFPs, elected officials can encourage carshare programs to locate in their city and can act as partners to facilitate the program and educate members of the community on the benefits of participation. Depending on the carshare structure, city planning and zoning departments can help to integrate the program within existing public transportation plans in order to meet mobility and accessibility needs for all residents in a city. Additionally, city economic development departments may choose to work with local business to select carshare locations that facilitate development and increase mobility in underserved areas of the city.


In most models, the non-profit organization that runs the carshare program is responsible for the success or failure of the program. Local governments that choose to engage in a public -private partnership and help fund the program will bear added responsibility in the success of the program. While most partnerships are informal, a simple document or memoranda of understanding can help address issues liability issues.


The start-up costs of carsharing are typically borne by the non-profit organization or private company that chooses to locate in the city (unless it is run by the municipality). The start-up of a carsharing program typically requires public subsidy, often using U.S. Department of Transportation Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program funding. Beyond initial startup costs, ongoing operating expenses - including maintenance, staffing, and marketing of the program are usually covered by membership fees and annual dues.

Local governments may choose to contribute to the program through marketing, administrative services (i.e. processing grants, identifying locations to place vehicles or lending office space), or assisting with financing such as providing start-up funding or waiving permit fees.

Local Government Role

Local governments can actively support and facilitate carshare opportunities within their communities. The following is a summary of some of the ways that local leaders can contribute to the development and success of these programs:

  • Explore the feasibility of starting a carshare program as a first step (see the City of San Antonio's feasibility studyas an example).
  • Issue a Request for Information (RFI) from current carsharing operators to explore the type of carshare model that might be most beneficial for your city.
  • Adopt or amend zoning and land use policies that support carsharing programs. For example, cities can incorporate car sharing into short- and long-term transportation and planning documents or ensure that new developments with parking garages provide car-sharing spaces. Additionally, local governments can create ordinances that require new developments to reduce parking demand and single- occupancy vehicle travel, where car sharing is offered as one strategy (see the City of Cambridge's Parking and Transportation Demand Management ordinance). The other option is to modify the city's land use code to incorporate carsharing, as the City of Seattle did.
  • Assist with location assessments for vehicle placement to determining the most appropriate areas that would allow the carsharing program to thrive.
  • Help to reduce operator expenses by providing lower-cost (or free) public parking spaces for carshare vehicles
  • Become carshare "champions," demonstrating the value of this service to the wider community.
  • Engage leaders from surrounding cities, towns and regional agencies to promote regional carsharing programs.

Additionally, local governments can create municipal car sharing programs as a means to more efficiently allocate city resources. Municipal car sharing programs function similarly to car sharing programs for residents. They encourage fleet sharing between city departments as a means to provide more efficient and effective access to cars for employees, while reducing the amount of resources spent on fleet management. Through an RFP process, cities are increasingly working with private companies to develop municipal car sharing programs. For example, the City of Loveland, Colo, is working with Enterprise Fleet Management to provide this service to city employees, and the City of Houston, Texas recently announced a partnership with Zipcar to launch a municipal electric vehicle car sharing program.

Action Agents

While the primary action agent for carsharing tends to be a non-profit or private company, a range of partners can play an active role in facilitating the success of a carshare program. These partners recognize the multiple benefits of carsharing, for their own interests and for the interests of the community:

  • City transportation, planning, zoning, or economic development departments
  • Transit agencies
  • Developers
  • Area universities
  • Metropolitan planning organizations or regional agencies
  • Nonprofit organization or private carshare company
  • Local businesses
  • Transportation advocates

For More Information

U.S. Cities with carshare programs run by non-profit organizations or private companies currently include:

Additional Resources

U.S. Cities with carshare programs run by non-profit organizations or private companies currently include:

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